Comments on Friend's Earthcare Witness pamphlet:

Toward Taking Away the Occasion of Abortion

by Rachel MacNair

     The average pro-lifer, unfamiliar with Friends (Quakers), may regard this title with some cynicism – it sounds like a pro-choice position with hand-wringing, rather than a real desire to protect children from violence. But Friends know this is a take-off on our traditional phrase of taking away the occasion of war. We deal with violence not merely by abstaining from it, but by being proactive in taking away even the temptation for it. It's placing abortion in the same category as war, which is where I agree it belongs, as asserted in the consistent life ethic.

The Back Alley and the Front Alley

     I'm afraid I take exception to some of the "facts" listed in the pamphlet, however. Figures of high numbers of women dying from abortion, such as this pamphlet's figure of 50 to 100 thousand women dying from abortion each year world-wide, mostly illegal ones, have a poor track record on being documented. In one case, the "CNN World Report," June 18, 1989, reported 400,000 women dying in Brazil each year of illegal abortions, when the World Health Organization reported about 40,000 deaths total for all causes for Brazilian women of child-bearing age! Estimates are notoriously self-serving to the abortion business. Dr. Bernard Nathanson admitted that he knew the figures to be inflated in the case of the United States when he was working for what was then the National Abortion Rights Action League in the 1960s, but he let it slide because the figures were so useful.

     Nor has the difference between legal and illegal abortions in terms of lethality for women been clearly established. The major drops in official abortion deaths in the United States mid-century accompanied the introduction of penicillin, while one couldn't note the point of legalization by studying the chart of official abortion deaths. Some deaths from legal abortion reported in the newspapers are not lodged with the official statistics. Scandals of unsafe medical conditions in legal clinics have arisen periodically in newspapers that are probably under-reporting them; there is a connection between staff engaged in serial killing and their attention to the quality of medical care. (See for why this would be so.)

     In short, pro-lifers are not callous toward women dying, but instead, based on experience, don't believe that legalization of abortion helps on this. When Poland banned abortion after several decades of legal availability, the over-all pregnancy-related death numbers went down; Nicaragua's placing of a ban (accompanied by a materinal health campaign) had the same effect; Chile's move from lax to strict rules in 1989 didn't interefere with the continuing drop in maternal mortality.

     When Roe v. Wade first passed, I was actually pleased, because I thought it would put the back-alley butchers out of business. But here in Kansas City, there was an abortion doctor named Richard Mucie who was in fact put out of business pre-Roe because a woman had died a horrific death from an abortion he did. After Roe, he sued to get his medical license back. He  literally opened up a clinic on Main Street.

Population Control

     The pamphlet suggests 50 million abortions having an impact on the population growth rate. But if it's acceptable to have killing millions of people as a method of cutting population for ecological reasons, wouldn't it make more sense to kill oil company executives? We could be much more efficient, killing a fewer number of high-impact people rather than a bunch of low-impact babies.

     Only if abortion had nothing to do with killing or violence would it make sense to even bring it up as having an impact on population numbers. It would be like pointing out that the 2004 tsunami at least had some population control as a silver lining.

     Nevertheless, the pamphlet states clearly that supporting population control efforts doesn't necessarily imply support for abortion.

     The fact is, neither banning abortions in Poland nor stopping the funding of Medicaid abortion in some states in the United States meant more births. In fact, there were slightly fewer childbirths. The abortions that didn't happen were not replaced by childbirth, but by some sort of behavior avoiding pregnancy. This suggests the number of pregnancies is not something that just so happens, independent of whether abortion is available or not.

Pamphlet's Question #3: Many people who oppose abortion also oppose provision of contraceptive services to those at risk of unwanted pregnancy. How can we understand this?

     I'm not one of those who oppose contraception, but I do understand some points, so I can help others to understand it.

     I had a friend who at age 13 was subjected to incestuous assaults from her older brother. When she missed her period, who do you think it was that took her to the abortion clinic? She was desperate to have some adult wonder why she should be pregnant at her age, ready to spill the beans in the hope that they would pull her out of the situation. Instead, they offered her a rainbow array of colored condoms! They not only didn't give her the help she needed, they actually communicated to her that she was to let the abuse continue. And it did. Fortunately, on that occasion her period showed up so she didn't show for the abortion appointment that was made for her. But as she looks back on this event as an adult, can we blame her for how angry she is?

     Yet for every case of clear abuse, there are plenty of exploitative and domineering relationships that are not so extreme. Contraception is accordingly less likely to be used, less likely to be effective if used, and more likely to be a disaster if unsuccessful. Adding more knowledge or better technology to a sick situation may or may not help limit the damage, but how well can it help if it serves only as a poor substitute for going after the brutal root of the problem?

     Additionally, the simple word for "failed contraception" is: "baby." Is it fair to any child to announce her very beginning as a "failure"? That's a heck of a way to treat anyone.

     Even with a sensitive, relatively egalitarian relationship, contraception can be tightly connected with abortion if it gives people the sense that because they used contraception, or just slipped on it only a little, they somehow have a right to not be pregnant. Consider the first episode of the sixth season of All in the Family. Gloria becomes pregnant because, apparently, she forgot to take the pills on a trip. Hence, the pregnancy becomes her "fault." Husband Michael, while elated at first, starts to feel put upon, thinking it isn't really his "fault" that the pregnancy happened. Gloria becomes distraught as he runs off in a huff, and she confides in her mother that though she really wants this baby, she's thinking of abortion for fear of losing Michael. The dynamics of contraception are leading straight to the consideration of abortion. Fortunately, it never happened, but that was in the show; it does happen in the real world all the time.

     Of course, it doesn't have to. A couple can always take the attitude that a child who pops up despite contraception is one who has real gumption, and that if she made it through all the obstacles put in her path, she must really be meant to be here.

     I don't regard the above discussion as reasons to avoid contraception -- any more than a discussion of what's wrong with being a couch potato watching mind-numbing violence on TV is a reason to dispense entirely with the television set. One can watch small amounts of good programming in a responsible way, and one can use contraception without an attitude that a baby popping up anyway means a failure or a need to abort. I only mean to say the subject is a lot more nuanced, and I don't believe that simply promoting contraception in a situation where it's already widely available should be treated as any kind of magic. It's only technology. Considering spiritual dimensions and our relationships with one another, there's only so much that mere technology by itself can do.

Excellent Reflections

     Having said all this, I still want to say that I'm delighted that Quaker Earthcare Witness has published this pamphlet. It's a very thoughtful effort, and the more reflection we have on this topic, the better. Abortion as something we wish to take away the occasion for, after all, is far different from abortion as a "right," a term which I regard as a con game against women to cover over something that is instead traumatizing. Thinking in terms of how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and how to convert already-established unwanted pregnancies into wanted children is an exercise from which we could all benefit.